In a move that could spark controversies, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered the Hagia Sophia converted into a mosque to be open round-the-clock for Muslim worship starting on July 24, Istanbul Governor Ali Yerlikaya said.
“Mr. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued an order that Ayasofya stays open for worship 24 hours a day. The Ayasofya mosque will be constantly open. We are thankful to our president,” he wrote on his Twitter page on Friday.
Earlier in the day, Namaz was prayed for the first time since 1934 in Hagia Sophia. Alongside the Turkish president, members of Turkey’s government and Grand National Assembly (parliament) attended the Friday prayers.
On July 10, the Turkish Council of State invalidated Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s 1934 decree that had bestowed Hagia Sophia with its museum status. Later in the day, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed an order declaring Hagia Sophia open for Muslim worship. Local Orthodox Churches, including the Russian Orthodox Church, voiced their regret over the decision, along with UNESCO.
Hagia Sophia is a Byzantine-era architectural monument. The cathedral was constructed between 532 and 537 AD by a decree from then Emperor Justinian I of Byzantium. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the cathedral was converted into a mosque. In 1935, following the decree of the Turkish government signed by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish state, the building was opened as a museum. White plaster covering Christian mosaics and murals was removed. In 1985, the building was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.